It can take a bit of practice to get a comfortable latch when you are learning how to breastfeed.
Why latch matters
Baby’s latch is important for 2 reasons:
- A ‘deep latch’ can help to prevent sore nipples. If your baby is latched ‘shallowly’ he will be mostly sucking on the nipple, compressing it with every suck. This can lead to sore cracked nipples. Ouch! When your baby is well latched, your nipple will be far back in his mouth, preventing compression.
- A ‘deeply latched’ baby can draw more milk from the breast. Getting more milk will not only help your baby to gain weight but it will also help to ensure you have a plentiful milk supply as your baby grows.
Signs of a good latch
1. Your nipples are comfortable during breastfeeding
A bit of discomfort when baby first latches is not unusual. Many women describe it as a tugging sensation. Tenderness, however, should ease off quickly once your baby begins to suck. If you feel pain or pinching after the first few sucks, take your baby off the breast. (Be sure to break the suction first by inserting your finger into the corner of baby’s mouth.) Try latching again using the instructions below.
If you continue to have pain despite getting a deep latch seek help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). There could be other factors involved such as a tongue-tie or a yeast infection.
2. Your baby’s chin touches the breast
When latching, tuck your baby close to your body with his chin touching your breast. This will help him to take in as much breast tissue as possible. Baby’s nose can be touching the breast as babies can breathe around the sides of their nose. If there is dimpling in baby’s cheeks or a smacking noise during the feed, re-latch as these can be signs of a shallow latch.
3. Baby’s lips are curled outward
When baby is latched deeply with lots of breast tissue in his mouth, his lips will curl outward. If despite your best efforts, your baby’s top lip doesn’t flange outward and you are having pain, talk to an IBCLC. There can sometimes be restrictive tissue under the lip (called a lip tie).
4. Your nipple is round after feeds
Your nipple should be round after feeding. If your nipple is slanted like a tube of new lipstick or has a white line across it, the latch is not quite right.
Run your tongue along the roof of your mouth from the front to the back. The “junction of the soft palate” is where the roof of the mouth goes from hard to soft. Ideally, your nipple should reach this spot, far back in your baby’s mouth. This will prevent too much pressure on your nipple during feeding.
5. Your baby is gaining weight
To effectively remove milk from the breast, babies need to be latched deeply. If your baby is not gaining weight as quickly as he should, have the latch assessed by someone skilled in assisting with breastfeeding. Sometimes a deeper latch is all it takes!
If a low milk supply is part of the problem, read this post to learn how to increase your milk supply.
How to get a deep latch
Being skin to skin helps to encourage your newborn’s natural feeding instincts. Having baby close to the breast helps him learn to feed. The darkening of your areola (the colored area around your nipple) during pregnancy helps your baby to locate your breast.
Some babies can latch themselves to the breast, while others require some gentle guidance.
A lot of mothers like the laid back nursing position. To use this position:
- Find a comfortable place to lean back with lots of pillows for support. You want to be back far enough so that gravity will keep the baby close. The baby can be at any angle that is comfortable, as long as the baby’s chest and tummy is against your chest. (For best success, try this skin to skin rather than with a shirt on as in the photo.)
- Use your arms to support your baby in whatever way feels most comfortable.
- Your baby will “bob” around for a bit, using his arms and legs to reposition himself until he latches himself to the nipple.
If your baby needs more help latching, the cross cradle or football positions can work well. They provide extra support for baby.
How to latch baby deeply in the cross cradle or football hold:
- Support your baby with your hand between baby’s shoulders, fingers at the base of baby’s head, just behind the ears.
- Hold your breast with the other hand, thumb and fingers forming a ‘C’; keep your fingers well back from the nipple.
- Baby’s head should be facing forward and not turned over his shoulder.
- Position your baby with your nipple across from baby’s nose.
- Tickle baby’s upper lip with your nipple.
- Baby should respond by opening widely and lifting his chin.
- Aim your nipple toward the roof of baby’s mouth.
- Baby’s chin should touch the breast first.
- Baby’s bottom lip should be further from the base of the nipple than the top lip (not centered in baby’s mouth). Baby’s lips will be curled outward.
- Baby’s nose can be touching the breast; baby can breathe from the sides of the nose. (Rest assured, your baby will unlatch if not getting enough air.)
- When you are learning how to breastfeed, keep your baby close. Snuggling skin to skin (baby in just a diaper on your bare chest) will help your baby learn to breastfeed.
- If your baby needs extra help latching, gently shape or “sandwich” the breast by squeezing your thumb and fingers together with the hand holding the breast. If your thumb is opposite baby’s nose when you squeeze, you will then have the breast in line with baby’s lips.
- If your baby is crying or upset, cuddle to calm her before trying again.
When to ask for help
- If you feel pain or an uncomfortable pinching sensation during feeds and it is not improving.
- If, after feeds, your nipple is flattened (like a tube of new lipstick) or has a white line across the centre.
- If you have blistered, cracked or bleeding nipples.
- If your baby is not gaining weight.
- If your baby is not latching. Learning to latch may take time and practice for both mom and baby. Most babies will latch to the breast eventually. Learn what to do if baby is not latching in this in-depth article.